There is a good chance that you have worked in your industry for a while and are quite familiar with its products/services,compliance/risk management, and how your organization operates overall. You might have already worked in various roles within the company. You may have risen through the ranks and are contemplating pursuing another leadership role. And that’s a good thing because it’s important to have “worked in the bowels of the ship before you rise to captain.” It’s a bonus to have experience on the front lines because you’ll have the empathy for what employees go through and you’ll have the expertise in the industry known as “street cred”–both of these command the respect of your team.
Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart asserts that “man will only respect and follow a leader whom they feel knows his profession thoroughly.” Which also means you must keep learning and keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry to show your team that you are on the cutting edge and (at least) one step ahead of them. Those leaders who stop learning stop leading and will be seen as irrelevant to the staff. Ever work for a supervisor that didn’t understand what you did all day?
Whenever you learn something new, find a way to share it with the team. Tim Sanders agrees: “Knowledge sharing is the basis of everything. Share knowledge with reckless abandon.” Demonstrate your expertise in your core team meetings and in one-to-one’s with your staff—not in a showy way to get the spotlight on you—but to have vigorous, eye-to-eye discussions with them about how to keep up with the industry changes and outperform the competition (which may be raising the bar from how you operate today). Do you have to be the number one expert in all-things-your-industry? Probably impossible. You DO need to be competent in all levels of the business. How else can you keep refining it toward excellence?
Let me clarify a point that may be unclear. I’m not saying that you need to be always in the trenches with your people. That’s not where your expertise is best utilized. The company needs you out front being the face of the organization to the community. It needs you to be planning how to continuously improve every facet of the business. It needs you to facilitate staff development. And it definitely needs you to keep the business (and its culture) sustainable. Beyond those priorities, you have some specific strengths that no one else on your team has; you know what they are. (And if you don’t, there is an assessment called StrengthsFinder that can reveal your strengths to you.) Those “sweet spots” are where you need to apply your focus. That is where you will make the most impact—and, where you’ll have the most fun in the work!
If you are still thinking to yourself, “I’m just not an expert on any area of leadership or business-savviness,” make the choice to become more of an expert in one proficiency every year. Just like you’d want each of your team to have a professional growth plan, you need one, too. Just spending 20 minutes on a topic every day will make you one of the nation’s leading experts in that area in one year! The best leaders are sharp, not well-rounded. However, there are some skills you simply must be able to “jump over the low bar” in order to be a business leader (and not a liability): basic human resources, basic accounting/finance, basic legal compliance, basic networking, etc. You may eventually delegate or contract out these services and roles to true experts, but at the beginning, most of the business will revolve around your decisions.
As your team grows, choose people who have adaptable skills, who can flex into different roles easily. You will get to the point (yes, it’s coming) where you will be able to stay almost blissfully-unaware of some very specific areas of the business because you have hired the right people, who you trust implicitly to make the right call in that area. When you get drawn into an area in which you are weak, you don’t stay in that zone for too long: you’ll make more errors and you’ll burn out sooner. Staff around those weak areas. They never will truly become strengths.
It’s been said, “Experience is what you earn right after you need it.” That’s true, and you’ll be better for it. You’ll avoid that pothole the next time you drive down that road in leadership. Effective leaders stay in their strength zones, keep building their expertise, and delegate/outsource to talented people in areas of their weaknesses.
When you hire a coach, it helps you keep the main things, the main things in your leadership. Consider if this is the year that you add a leadership coach to your “personal advisory board” to take your development to the next level–which not only helps you become more focused and effective, but your whole team also will benefit from what you learn and apply! I’d be honored to be considered as your coach. Let’s have a conversation. Start the ball rolling at firstname.lastname@example.org today!